10 TO WATCH IN 2003:

DBEDT nominee
welcomes challenge

By Tim Ruel

When reminded of Hawaii's business reputation for being expensive and overregulated, Ted Liu gives a pained wince.

Liu, Gov. Linda Lingle's nominee for director of the Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, acknowledges the problems and admits there is no guarantee he can mend it all during his tenure.

Ten to watch in 2003
The Star-Bulletin is spotlighting 10 people who may have a big impact on Hawaii this year.

"It's not going to be the next few months; let's make that exceedingly clear," Liu said. "I don't have the solutions at the tip of my tongue. The pressure is on the administration, and we will take it up as a challenge."

Born in Taiwan and raised in Brazil, Liu moved to Hawaii in 2000 after working as a Morgan Stanley investment banker in Taiwan, China and Hong Kong.

Liu, 47, co-founded the private equity firm PacifiCap Group, which stunned the tech world two years ago when it became part of a group that raised $236 million for then- local tech firm Pihana Pacific.

Last week, Liu shied away from his image as a high-tech money man and said he wants the state to help a broad spectrum of small businesses -- in tourism, agriculture, biomedicine and aquaculture, as well as information-technology firms.

But his short-range goals keep going back to high technology.

Liu said he thinks local companies, including those in tourism, can be more competitive by using technology to boost cost-effectiveness. He seeks growth in technology companies, specifically where the state has advantages, such as the huge military presence here (think computer security) and the University of Hawaii's $150 million school of medicine in Kakaako, which opens in 2005 (science and biotechnology).

Liu wants to fill the void of venture funding in Hawaii, which is seen as a big deterrent to business growth.

And he is also meeting with government officials to get a rundown of all the federal funds and grants that are available to Hawaii businesses. "There's no magic. It's hard work, creative thinking," Liu said.

He said he knows the business community has heard it before: that the regulatory climate is improving, that Hawaii can be seen as a serious place to do business, that technology is the way to broaden the economy.

Liu said he has a reason to be confident that he can do better: Lingle's Republican administration of pro-business people behind him.

"Gov. Lingle is fully committed to this," Liu said.

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